Physical Therapy for Parkinson's Disease

Ryan Hastie, PT, DPT, CSCS |

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that causes loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce the chemical dopamine. This substance is important for bodily control, thought processes, decision making and other essential behaviors. Although the exact cause of PD is not known, it is thought to be related to family history, age, and/or exposure to certain toxins. This disease is a chronic degenerative disease, meaning it progresses or gets worse over time.

Symptoms of PD vary from person to person. In some, the disease progresses more rapidly and they experience difficulties with physical movement or mental processes. Conversely, some people experience a slow progression of the course of many years. Unfortunately, there are no predictive markers to determine who experiences fast or slow decline.

There are many signs and symptoms of PD. Motor (movement) and non-motor symptoms can occur. Common motor symptoms are resting tremor, which usually occurs in the hand but can also occur in the jaw or legs. Resting tremors typically cease with movement and do not interfere with function. Some non-motor can include altered smell, lightheadedness when standing up and sleep difficulties. As PD progresses some notice other motor symptoms such as shuffling gait, decreased arm swing during walking, decreased volume of voice, muscle stiffness, feeling “frozen” when trying to begin walking and difficulty with simple daily tasks such as showering or dressing.

Due to the varying degrees of impairment with each person, your physical therapist will tailor your treatment plan to your specific difficulties. During your initial evaluation, your PT will assess posture, balance, strength, gait, endurance and coordination. Your physical therapist will be able to prescribe an individualized treatment plan that will include ways to improve your overall fitness level, strength, flexibility and balance. Balance is a key component in PT for Parkinson’s as decreasing fall risk can prevent or minimize injury risk.

One specific technique used during physical therapy is LVST (Lee Silverman Voice Treatment) BIG AND LOUD. BIG emphasizes large limb movements with the goal of improving balance, speed and coordination. Core strengthening is also an integral aspect of training. LOUD addresses the difficulty that patients with PD experience with talking as their voices become softer. This training aims to increase the loudness and clarity of their voice. LVST BIG is tailored to each person’s specific goals and needs and can help anyone regardless of the severity of stage of PD.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, please reach out to your local Doctor of Physical Therapy for an in-depth assessment and treatment plan to minimize the effects of PD. Please do not suffer alone, there are people out there ready and able to help! Physical therapists improve the way you move!